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These climate activists expect a lot from President Biden and aren't afraid to make that clear

Biden upends controversial Trump policies
Biden upends controversial Trump policies with first day actions 02:19

Climate activists who have worked with President Joe Biden see his Day 1 executive actions on climate policy as a promising start. But it's just that, a start — they have specific policy goals for his administration. 

Mr. Biden signed executive actions Wednesday afternoon to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, direct federal agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, and cancel permits for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — all reversals of policies put in place by President Trump.

Sunrise Movement, a progressive, youth-led group, had a seat at the table during the Biden transition as its co-founder and other allies sat on the Climate Task Force, started as a policy team meant to bridge Senator Bernie Sanders' climate platform with Biden's after Sanders dropped out of the race for president. 

Since that time, the Biden team has made multiple concessions, said Sunrise political director Evan Weber. Weber credits the group and other progressives for convincing the administration to create the Office of Domestic Climate Policy, and said it led the push to nominate Representative Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary.

"The climate team as a whole has some of the strongest progressive bona fides across the administration which speaks to the climate movement's growing power," Weber said.

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, told CBS News that the Biden team is the most pro-climate in history. 

"Not that the Obama administration wasn't committed and wasn't pro-environment, [but] I think that this administration is so clearly prioritizing this," she said.

Expectations couldn't be higher for the administration. While there's obvious relief amongst climate activists that Democrats are back in the White House and in control of Congress, none are taking their foot off the pedal. 

"We need to see a lot more administrative progress coming over the next days and weeks and every day of this administration," said Sittenfeld. 

Breaking down Biden's plan to combat climate change 06:43

This week, the League of Conservation Voters published its "Policy Priorities for the Biden-Harris Administration and 117th Congress," a 38-point agenda broken into categories ranging from "Immediate Action" ("Announce commitment to protect 30% of our lands and waters by 2030"), to "First 100 Days" ("Tighten EPA and DOJ enforcement of polluters harming frontline communities"), and beyond ("Establish mandatory requirements to reduce agricultural runoff that causes harmful algal blooms.") 

Sunrise sent its own memo to the incoming Biden administration Tuesday evening. Obtained exclusively by CBS News, the "Top Priorities for the Incoming Biden Administration" reads like a fiery plea addressed directly to the president:

"Use your bully pulpit: This is your FDR moment. You have said you want to have an FDR-sized presidency, and much of what was accomplished in that time was done by FDR taking a leading role in corralling the nation into action and taking bold executive action."

The tone is unrelenting. Sunrise's political director said lessons learned from the last Democratic administration contribute to that approach. Many on the progressive left fault President Obama for not doing enough to combat the climate crisis. Weber, a student-activist during the Obama years, recalled going from "excitement and turning into extreme disappointment."

"Young progressives learned that you can't take these promises at their face value and that the work does not end after an election," he said. "We're definitely gonna ask nicely at first and when demands aren't met, we'll change tones and tactics."

Sunrise believes it can apply pressure when it needs to. The group has grown exponentially since it began in 2017. Today there are 477 active chapters across the country with approximately 87,000 members. Weber told CBS News that they've seen more than 100 of those chapters launched since the pandemic began. 

They plan to mobilize their hundreds of chapters and lean on specific "targets" in Congress, including Democratic Senate leadership and moderates such as Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. There will be social media pushes, ad buys, and in-person rallies. Thursday will mark a "Day of Action" when Sunrise members plan to rally outside members' local offices — both Democrat and Republican. 

"There is an activated, energized, mobilized base of young people that really, really wants change and will reward politicians and defend politicians who are allies ... and will punish and go after people who are standing in the way of progress," said Weber. 

Also this week, Organize For Justice, a sister organization of the progressive PAC Justice Democrats, plans to release two short documentaries to usher in the "Decade of the Green New Deal." The short films will highlight workers on the front lines of the climate crisis who call on President Biden and Democrats to enact a policy agenda centered on climate, jobs and justice.

Justice Democrats communications director Waleed Shahid told CBS News that he believes Mr. Biden has the will to enact lasting climate policy and be a "once-in-a-generation American president." However, that optimism, Shahid warned, will not lead to complacency. 

"We are not sitting on our hands waiting for action to be taken. We're taking action ourselves. We're not afraid to put public pressure on the administration," he said.

Sunrise's Weber admits that safety precautions because of COVID-19 pose a challenge to their activism, but argues the pandemic has shown the need for sweeping legislation built to address a "massive crisis."

"We need that same kind of an all-in, marshaled effort to address [climate]. It's not something that's happening 30 years down the line. It's happening right now."

Read the full memo from the Sunrise Movement below:

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